My grandparents have a house in the Loire Valley in France. It’s a really old farmhouse, surrounded by fields of cows and sunflowers; the nearest house is a working farm at the end of the lane. It is rural living at its most rural. Days are spent reading in the garden, swimming and sailing on the lake and browsing the markets for the finest cheese and olives.
When we were children living in America, we went there every summer, after our annual visit to London.
One of our favourite activities at the house is blackberry picking. The lane is overgrown with blackberry bushes, which, by August are laden with fruit, perfect for picking for jam and tarts.
The blackberries always reminded my mother of the Blackberry Fairy from the Flower Fairy poems by Cicely Mary Barker. (I was a very fairy obsessed child and we had all the Flower Fairy books.)
‘I’ll tear your dress, and cling, and tease,
And scratch your arms and hands and knees’
the poem goes. It’s not lying. The best, biggest, juiciest blackberries are always right at the top, just slightly out of reach. Attempting to pick them always results in scrapes and cuts, which still seem worth it in pursuit of the fruit.
‘I’ll stain your fingers and your face,
and then I’ll laugh at your disgrace.’
Also true. Blackberries are notorious for their stains. Take this tarte, for example. Okay, I’ll admit, these blackberries were not painstakingly picked from brambles on a lane (in fairness, it is not quite wild blackberry season yet!) But rather were handpicked off a shelf in a shop.
But the thought is the same! And the juice that turns everything a shade of deep purple. Fingers and pears alike.
Pear Tarte Tartin with Blackberry Caramel
(I’m calling this caramel in the spirit of a tarte tartin, in which caramel is poured over fruit before pastry is laid on top. In reality it is just runny jam. I’ll also concede that this may not strictly be a tarte tartin for it does not use puff pastry. Really it’s an upside down pear and blackberry pie. But I have delusions of grandeur.)
For the pastry:
225g plain flour
110g butter (cold)
80g caster sugar
Begin by rubbing the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Then mix in the sugar. Add the egg and possibly a splash of milk if needed to bring it together into a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes
For the caramel:
1 punnet of blackberries
3 tablespoons caster sugar
splash of water
Put the blackberries, sugar and water into a saucepan and gently cook until the sugar has dissolved and the blackberries have started to soften. Use a wooden spoon to much the blackberries slightly. Cook until you have a thick syrup.
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Peel the pears and cut into thin slices. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Grease and line a pie dish, then arrange the pears over the bottom of the dish. Try to keep them neat because this will be the side on show! Then pour the blackberry syrup over the pears. Finally, roll out the pastry into a thin sheet and place over the pears.